Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Mulgrew puts his best foot forward

After neatly folding up and placing his Northern Ireland jersey to one side, midfielder Jamie Mulgrew can't wait to pull on the Linfield shirt again.

Mulgrew has been kicking his heels on the sidelines for over a month, but now his foot injury is a fading memory and he's ready to make up for lost time.

The former Glentoran man was named in the Blues' CIS Insurance Cup Final squad, but the weather had the final say last weekend.

However, Mulgrew was able to fight for a David Jeffrey team on Tuesday night when the Premier League under-23 side served up a spirited performance in Belgium before conceding a late goal and crashing to a 2-1 defeat.

The 21-year-old's selection for the under-23 side was a further reminder of how highly Jeffrey rates his starlet, but the man himself knows he must keep shining at a club where competition for midfield places is fierce.

And with Oran Kearney and Conor Downey on the brink of a first team return, that competition is heating up.

Next up for Mulgrew and co. is a huge test against Newry City at the Showgrounds tomorrow.

The border boys are in fourth spot and in the mood to keep the heat on Cliftonville, Linfield and Glentoran at the top.

A home win would offer evidence that Gerry Flynn's side should be taken seriously as title contenders and the Linfield players will recall the CIS Cup semi-final scrap between the sides which needed a penalty shoot-out to decide the winner.

"Every game is now presenting us with a huge test," said Mulgrew.

"There's a simple reason for that. Other teams like Glentoran and Cliftonville aren't going to lose many matches and while every opponent is given respect in every game we have to have a must-win approach.

" Newry's record this season speaks for itself and they have done enough to suggest they will be there or thereabouts at the end of the season.

"Their performances have been very good and they deserve to be where they are in the table and from January they will also have Michael Collins in their team and possibly a few new faces may be added.

" Gerry has done a fantastic job there in a very short space of time and of course he is working with some top players including Richard Clarke who is still just a young boy yet he has been around for years.

"He's the main man at Newry and a real threat to us, but as a team they are very strong and they made us sweat in the CIS Cup semi-final.

"This is a crucial period for Linfield as the holiday season always tests you and we must be at our best to win some very tough matches."

Despite tasting defeat in the under-23 clash, Mulgrew and his comrades were thrilled to pull on a Northern Ireland jersey and for each one of the players the adventure would have been a considerable confidence boost.

Any international recognition is a cherished feeling, but after being sidelined since injuring his foot against Ballymena United in October, Mulgrew is simply happy to be playing again.

"At Linfield you know you have to take opportunities when they come along and I was delighted to be in the CIS Cup Final squad," he added.

"That match has been put back and it's up to every player to keep performing well to keep their place in the team.

"Injuries are part and parcel of the game, but I'm just delighted to be fit again ahead of what is a very testing time for the club.

"The fact that I was selected for the under-23 side was a huge confidence boost as it's an indication that I am doing something right, but playing for Linfield is my bread and butter and after spending so long on the sidelines I want to help the team out again.

"It was very disappointing to lose in Belgium, but we didn't know a great deal about the opposition and I thought we didn't deserve to lose."